Go Down Together Summary

Jeff Guinn

Go Down Together

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Go Down Together Summary

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Go Down Together (2010) by biographer and investigative journalist Jeff Guinn offers a sweeping account of the iconic crime couple, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Guinn’s work was praised for uncovering new material about the iconic pair from Dallas (Guinn is a native of Texas). This new material includes family journals and new interviews with contemporary sources. The book’s themes include love, revenge, and rebellion against unjust societal institutions.

Go Down Together opens with a prologue. Guinn reviews the murder of one victim, H.D. Murphy. Murphy, twenty-four years old, was to be married in twelve days. Bonnie and Clyde, twenty-three and twenty-four respectively, were already notorious bank robbers. In the mid-30s, they represented “scandalous glamor,” and the portraits of them that circulated through newspapers were flattering to their appearance, though in person, they were average looking and because of their various run-ins with the law, now had some physical disabilities.

Due to a misunderstanding, Clyde ends up shooting and killing Murphy. The press gladly reports on the tragedy, and Guinn dissects why depression era readers were “starved” for entertainment; the story of Bonnie and Clyde was a welcome distraction from the hardship of everyday life. But after the murder of Murphy, public opinion turned against them, and they would be dead in six weeks.

In the first chapter, Guinn reviews the typical early childhood of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Both were raised under Christian teachings, had parents and grandparents who struggled to keep food on the table for most of their adult lives, and had several volatile figures in their lives whose temperaments increased their anxiety. Not only were they teenagers during the depression, but also, they were part of movements through FDR’s New Deal to reestablish societal equality through government programs, and thus taught to believe that societal equality was possible.

Bonnie and Clyde were never, like John Dillinger or George Nelson (Baby Face Nelson), major criminals best known for their lack of hesitation in murdering anyone who crossed them, including several FBI agents. In fact, not one killing was ever connected to Bonnie Parker. She complemented Clyde’s criminal dealings by watching his accomplices and helping everyone plan the next heist.

Clyde, as evident in the prologue, gets dragged into more severe crimes because of his inexperience. As a teenager, he would steal the occasional chicken. Then he started stealing cars. Grand theft auto was the limit of his criminal behavior, or so he thought.

Bonnie follows Clyde wherever he goes; her only real goal in life is to travel away from the mundane trappings of her upbringing. Before she met Clyde, Guinn writes that it is possible that Bonnie worked as a prostitute to make enough money for the makeup and posh clubs she wanted.

Even as notorious criminals, the two remain ordinary in regular life. But for pictures, they take care to wear their absolute best and brandish guns as if they were advertising something. They pose in evocative positions. Guinn discusses one iconic picture of Bonnie placing her foot on the bumper of their car with a cigar in her mouth and a revolver at her side. The photo scandalized and inspired millions of people. It hinted at the sexual freedom possible in the 30s, as well as freedom from a job or the legal system.

The two travel the country, sleeping in fields and eating in their cars. Bonnie was an aspiring writer, and her love poems to Clyde cemented their status as criminal lovers. Clyde wakes up each day praying to God to take care of his family. They often meet up with their families for important holidays, even when they make it onto the list of “America’s Most Wanted.”

Guinn outlines how the “Barrow Gang” killed ten people, almost always out of ineptitude or accident. These murders took place while resisting arrest or inexpertly completing bank robberies. Guinn dissects the myth of Bonnie and Clyde. While a major film about them in 1967 portrayed them as a couple who stole from the rich to give to the poor, in reality, they often stole from small gas stations and grocery stores. Large bank robberies required more resources that the young, inexperienced kids from Dallas could not access.

While Clyde hurts people, he was also hurt himself. In prison, he was repeatedly raped by a psychopathic man; he eventually kills the man, his only premediated murder. The terrible prison experience also confirms for Clyde that he would rather die than return to jail.

Bonnie and Clyde died in a shootout on May 23, 1934. They were to meet a criminal accomplice, but were intercepted by Texas Ranger Frank Hamer. Neither Bonnie nor Clyde was able to reach their weapons. As the newspapers gleefully reported, Bonnie died with a sandwich on her lap. They were shot more than one hundred fifty times. Their legacy in death skyrocketed. The clothes they died in were auctioned off. People could also pay money to see the car they were shot in.

The title of Guinn’s book comes from a line of poetry by Bonnier Parker: “Some day they’ll go down together/ they’ll bury them side by side./ to few it’ll be grief/ to the law a relief/ but it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.” Clyde asked his parents to inscribe “gone but never forgotten” on his tombstone. Guinn writes that his dream of living on in the minds of others became true.